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Novell extends open-source push

For the second time, the company has released the source code of a once-proprietary software package that makes it easier to substitute Linux for Microsoft's Windows.

For the second time, Novell has released the source code of a once-proprietary software package that makes it easier to substitute Linux for Microsoft's Windows.

Novell, a new power in the Linux landscape, announced last month that its YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool) installation and configuration tool would become open source. And Tuesday, it said it would make the same change with Evolution Connector, formerly known as Ximian Connector, software that lets the company's Evolution e-mail and calendar program retrieve data from Microsoft Exchange servers.

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Evolution Connector previously cost $69 per computer, spokesman Kevan Barney said. It will be available as a free download by May 15, though source code is available now.

YAST and Evolution Connector previously were proprietary programs designed to give their creators--Ximian and SuSE Linux--a unique edge over competitors. But Novell, which acquired Ximian in 2003 and SuSE in 2004, has a broader suite of proprietary software to rely on for profits.

"We felt that we had important features in the Connector that were not reaching all Linux users who need to access Exchange, which then held back Linux desktop deployments," Barney said of Novell's decision.

Novell's SuSE is the second-ranked version of Linux, and the company is hoping to use a desktop software push to make gains against Microsoft and No. 1 Linux seller Red Hat, which just launched its own desktop Linux bid.

YAST and Evolution Connector both are governed by the General Public License (GPL), which permits anyone to see, modify and redistribute their source code--but requires any changes to be published if someone distributes the modified version. The Linux kernel, the core of the operating system, is also covered by the GPL.

Putting software under the GPL means that competitors, business partners and hobbyists can freely use it. In the open-source world, competitors frequently rely on one another in this way; for example, Novell uses the Red Hat Package Manager software, which makes it easier to install or update software.

Indeed, Novell's move with Evolution Connector got Red Hat's attention. "We are evaluating using it as a part of Red Hat Desktop and Red Hat Enterprise Linux now that it's open-sourced," said Red Hat spokeswoman Leigh Day. "Interoperability is important."

Using the GPL also means that programmers outside Novell can contribute to the project--which Barney said that Novell welcomes. However, Novell owns all the Evolution and Connector copyrights today and will continue to do so in the future, he said.

"We hope members of the open-source desktop communities will contribute to the connector through testing, evangelism and development," Barney said.

Also on Tuesday, Novell said that it plans to release version 2.0 of its Evolution e-mail software by the third quarter. The new version will add built-in spam filtering, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption features, synchronization abilities for Palm and PocketPC handheld computers, and tight integration with Gaim instant-messaging software, Novell said.

Novell has two competitors to Microsoft Exchange: SuSE Linux Openexchange Server (SLOX) and Novell GroupWise. The current version of Evolution can connect to SLOX, and version 2.0 will be able to connect to GroupWise, Novell said.